the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father
be with us, in the name of his risen son,
our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.
Don’t be afraid! Has anyone ever said
that to you? What usually follows those words?
Now don’t be afraid, but … “look
who’s coming … I have to break
something to you … I have to go away
…” In our lives, if we hear someone
tell us not to be afraid, it is usually because
they are about to share something that can
cause us fear.
In our Gospel reading this morning, after
the angel Gabriel greets Mary and assures
her that the Lord has (for some strange reason)
found favor with her, a 13 year old girl with
absolutely no social standing in that society
at all, he tells her not to be afraid. She
probably thought she had something to be afraid
of, since the religious authorities were probably
telling her over and over about the wrath
of God if she did not follow the law perfectly
as they taught it! Instead, the angel speaks
a word of grace – she has found favor
with the Lord; there is no reason given for
this, just that it has happened. And as a
result of God’s favor, she is going
to bear a child that will be the Son of the
Most High, the one who will re-claim the throne
of David which God promised would be occupied
forever. This is good news indeed; and it
is news that can cause a person to be afraid.
Earlier in the chapter, Gabriel appeared to
someone else with those same words. That time
it was Zecheriah, one of the men serving the
temple as a priest. He was a person of relatively
high standing in the community of his day.
He was much different from his wife Elizabeth’s
relative, young Mary. But he heard the same
words: “Do not be afraid…”
The news he is told is that his wife, though
elderly and barren, will bear a son and he
is to name him John. John will prepare the
way for the Lord.
In the New Testament, angels like Gabriel
visit people with the words, “Do not
be afraid” on multiple occasions. They
are certainly words of assurance – that
these people have nothing to fear even though
they might be frightened by the looks of this
being, let alone his message. But they are
more than words of assurance. In all instances,
they have further purpose.
First of all, on many levels they offer comfort.
The status quo is about to be shaken up, altered
and disrupted. These words will linger for
these people as events unfold as a constant
reminder that the presence of God is with
them no matter what happens. In the cases
of Zecheriah and Mary, each are having babies
in extreme circumstances – one is a
virgin and the other’s wife is barren.
These are signs that the children will be
important parts of God’s mission on
These are also words of comfort to people
who live under duress, attack and persecution.
The Roman occupation of their land was not
a pleasant thing to endure. Even though they
did bring about a number of improvements to
their society, it came at a high price, literally
with taxes, and figuratively, with total loyalty
and obedience to Caesar as the Son of God.
This was something that went against their
Besides comfort, the words, “Do not
fear,” also will provide opportunities
for courageous actions to take place. Mary
is called to believe that she will bear a
child without having relations with her betrothed,
and this will certainly bring disgrace to
her and her family. Zecheriah is called to
name the child John without any reason to
do so except that the angel has told him to.
Both are called to believe that Gabriel says
and somewhat passively allow what he has promised
to happen in their lives.
Finally, and most importantly, the phrase,
“Do not fear” is an invitation.
These people are called to do the unusual
for the sake of the entire world. Why? Because
of the promise that Gabriel shares just before
he departs: Nothing will be impossible with
God! If a person truly believes that, then
they have nothing to fear, and they can follow
God’s lead as things unfold.
Tonight we will gather here as Christians
gather in churches all over the world. This
morning we have an opportunity to prepare
for that celebration. Our worship time this
morning is not a celebration; it is not even
a thanksgiving or a commemoration. The focus
of our worship this morning is assurance.
Folks … do not be afraid! The Lord has
found favor with you. Find comfort in those
words, knowing that the status quo of our
lives is about to be disrupted; be comforted
knowing that the duress that many of us live
under is very real. There will be opportunities
coming soon for courageous action to be taken
by you and me; we are invited to do what some
may call unusual and bold for the sake of
God’s mission in the world. For nothing
will be impossible with God!
Our Psalmody today wasn’t from a Psalm,
but from some verses later in Luke 1. It is
a passage that is sometimes called The Magnificat.
It is Mary’s song that she sings to
Elizabeth when she goes to stay with her for
three months during her pregnancy. It is a
song which Mary believed with her whole heart,
even though the powers of the world should
not like it when they hear it. Power, wealth
and strength are declared as doomed, and poverty,
hunger and lowliness are to be redeemed by
God through Mary’s son. It is a counter-cultural
message, especially in this day and age where
the rich seem to be getting more and more
But it is good news for us, even when we consider
ourselves as the richer, stronger, more powerful
people of the world. God’s promise of
salvation is intended for all people, no matter
their social standing or wealth. God loves
us all, and desires for us to believe the
words that with him, nothing is impossible.
It may seem odd, but we are called in our
wealth to celebrate that God is going to bring
us down, while he lifts up those who have
less. That is what the Christ child will do.
That is why we need to hear these words this
morning: Do not be afraid!
At the end of our service we will share together
the words of Mary’s song in an arrangement
that I am sure will be new to you. I have
sung it on a couple of occasions, but you
probably have not. It is jazzy. It is upbeat.
It moves quickly. And it is the perfect way
to sing these words as Gabriel’s greeting,
“Do not be afraid” linger in our
ears. “My soul does magnify the Lord;
my spirit sings of God my savior, for he has
looked with love and favor on his lowly servant!”
When we sing those words, may we feel the
spirit moving us from fear to faith as we
anticipate God’s coming into this world.